SOCIAL JUSTICE

Everyone wants it. Obama and the Pope agree on little, but both want it. Big businesses proclaim their commitment to it, trade unions agitate for it. Hapless Francoise Hollande, embarrassed by last week’s French elections, claimed his humiliation was in part due to, ‘Not enough social justice’. Everybody from the Marxist SWP to the fascist BNP wants social justice.

Justice Calm

Even the dear old Church of Scotland wants it. Eager to jump on any passing bandwagon, the CofS declares concerning the coming referendum that it, ‘has welcomed the debate but insists that any constitutional change must bring about social justice benefits’.

Demands for social justice are especially appealing to Christians as God commands us to act justly. But is social justice the same thing as God’s justice?

Those demanding social justice all want different things. Depending on the source it can mean same sex marriage, women’s rights, income inequality, ‘British jobs for British workers’, child welfare, gender neutral toilets, abortion on demand, free school lunches, the list goes on. Social justice is one of those terms which actually means nothing because it can mean anything.

Ultimately it boils down to the adult version of the playground cry of ‘It’s not fair’, usually accompanied by the stamping of little feet. Social justice is little more than code, a campaign slogan churned out by the organisational publicity machine to elicit a favourable response from the public. After all, who could possibly be against fairness and social justice?

justice
The 19th century anarchist thinker Proudhon drew a distinction between transcendental and immanent justice. He saw transcendental justice as ‘external, objective pressure exerted on the self’, an immutable external code. Immanent Justice on the other hand was based on human conscience,  an imminent law inherent in the soul. For Proudhon immanent justice differs from the Christian concept in as much as it is purely human, more apparent as a feeling or emotion rather than as a fixed standard.

Proudhon’s concept of emotion based immanent justice has been adopted and rebranded by today’s more media savvy proponents as social justice. So successful is this that the UN can declare, ‘‘Present day believers in an absolute truth identified with virtue and justice are neither willing nor desirable companions for the defenders of social justice.’ Social Justice in an Open World (2006).

Thus if you believe truth and justice are absolute concepts independent of the wants and desires of whoever holds sway in society you are an opponent of social justice. Christians who identify justice as being in accord with the standards of virtue we find in the Bible as emanating from God are not even considered desirable companions on the journey towards social justice. At least the UN has a clearer idea of the ultimate issues involved than most churches.

Social justice can be unjust, being devoid of any absolute standard its deamnds for fairness too easily end in unfairness. We have gradually come to see the concepts of fairness and justice as coterminous. Yet justice to be just is blind, all must be treated equally; fairness to be fair is partial, one group has to be favoured over another.

Affirmative action is socially just but inherently unfair. Political parties, because of past unfairness, operate quotas when selecting candidates. In the case of all woman short lists this may be fair to women. But by being partial it is also unfair to those men who might wish to contest the seat, as it is to the entire electorate who do not get to choose between the best candidates, only the perceived appropriate ones. Social justice is imminent justice and without an absolute standard of justice we find fairness gradually slipping into injustice.

Perhaps the biggest problem with social justice is that the demand for social justice decreases compassion.

Cries for social justice always work from the assumption that the right people, the anointed few, can simply impose fairness, prosperity and any other good thing you can dream up. And the only institution capable of imposing social justice is the state. The greater the cries for social justice for the disadvantaged the greater the power accrued by the already powerful and the decrease of personal involvement.

In the Bible justice is about caring for the vulnerable because this reflects the character of God. It invariably involves right relationships. More than three dozen times the OT brings together mishpat or justice, meaning punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment, and tzadeqah or righteousness, the way we live before God. God’s justice demands personal involvement, it is not a matter of demanding that the powers that be do something about it, God’s justice demands that we do something about it.

One of God’s most off the wall decisions was to use us as His instruments of justice. Micah 6:8 says: ‘He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ We are God’s plan for doing justice in His world, and He hasn’t revealed a Plan B.

Too reliant on government due to the atomisation of society, family and church are no longer the hubs of the community, localism is to a significant extent dead. There is an expectation that the state will provide the aid and support once supplied by family and church. As individuals and a society we have outsourced compassion and given it politicians and social work departments.

In a situation where the support mechanisms within society have broken down, as they largely have, the state steps in to supply what is required. The more they do this however, the more society’s support mechanisms are weakened and the more the state needs to do. The state is an institution, as such it can only take and dispense, it cannot love.

God’s just requirement is that we love our neighbour, especially our vulnerable neighbour. No one pays taxes out of love.

 

TONY BENN

The doctrine of common grace assures us that it is impossible to be 100% wrong about everything. Give him his due the late Tony Benn did his best to overcome common grace.

Tony Benn

Tony Benn

Beginning as a technocratic moderniser in the Wilson government’s effort to forge a new Britain in the ‘white heat of technology.’ Benn championed Concorde, the Post Office Tower and British Leyland. The future was rosy, until it all went pear shaped as it became evident that his innovations were all too often white elephants.

For someone who came from a political family, his father Viscount Stansgate had been a Liberal then a Labour MP, Benn consistently misread politics with an aplomb which was breathtaking. As he got older this became ever more pronounced. As Harold Wilson remarked, Tony ‘immatures with age.’ Even when at the height of his political career insiders knew Tony Benn couldn’t be trusted. In the early 70′s Henry Drucker in a lecture at Edinburgh University claimed that even the Labour Party would never elect a raving lunatic with ‘revolving eyeballs’ as leader.

Yet the political landscape in Britain altered so much that in 1981 Tony Benn came to within a hairsbreadth 0.8% of beating Dennis Healey for the job of deputy leader. Benn became a standard bearer for the hard left in the Labour Party and helped create the conditions which tore the Labour Party apart and saw the birth of the breakaway SDP.

Michael Foot, whose leadership Benn consistently undermined, was of the opinion that Benn ‘was not to be trusted.’ Benn’s one lasting legacy will be his voluminous diaries which record in detail the political events of the day and his part in them. In contrast the diaries of his contemporaries reveal a blundering operator who throughout his career was profoundly distrusted by his colleagues, Benn was seen as the loose cannon who could sink any ship.

Benn’s charge to the left helped ensure the victories of Margaret Thatcher. He vociferously supported president-for-life Arthur Scargill of the NMU as Scargill aided Margaret Thatcher in the destruction of the British coal industry. All the while Benn conveniently ignored the fact that he had been a member of the Wilson government which had closed more mines than Thatcher ever did.

Probably Benn’s greatest talent was not his much praised oratory but his ability to denounce his rivals in the Labour Party. Always willing to organise back bench rebellions when he was outvoted in Cabinet Benn, the man of principle, never actually went so far as to resign on principle.

Heavily influenced by Christian socialism Benn saw himself as a prophet ever ready to challenge the kings. During his Desert Island Discs interview, he asked to take to the imaginary island two books he had never read in their entirety: The Bible and Das Kapital, by Karl Marx. “Those two books – the moral teaching and the political analysis – are the two great influences, whether we know it or not, in our century.”

Mr Benn

Mr Benn

Benn was brought up an idealist by his feminist theologian mother and in later life became a romantic, a left wing Don Quixote ever ready to tilt at windmills for some lost cause. Eventually he resembled nothing more than the cartoon character Mr Benn the suburban commuter who would enter a fancy dress shop, purchase a costume and exit through a back door into a fantasy land where he would be a cowboy, pirate, astronaut, cook, caveman, whatever adventure was appropriate to the costume he was wearing that day.

Today eulogies for someone who appears a genuinely likeable man on a personal level abound. His wild schemes forgotten, his perpetual feuding fading from memory we remember the devoted family man who saw himself as a prophet for his age. Benn’s final reinvention late in life as an avuncular national treasure, pipe smoking, tea drinking elderly relative dispensing dollops of left wing wisdom clouds us to the fact that, amusing as he was in his latter years his policies were resoundingly rejected by the British people in successive general elections and did more harm to the Labour Party which he loved than the Tories ever managed.

RECOGNITION CALLS

Birdwatchers know that there are certain birds such as the corncrake and bearded tit which are rarely seen but often heard. If you know their habitat and calls it is possible to estimate their numbers.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit

At one time progressives were easy to spot. Their plumage consisted of beards, sandals and hand knitted ties; any two out of three and you likely had a progressive. Usually they could be spotted in a staff room sheltering behind a copy of the Guardian or the Times Educational Supplement.

Those days are gone. Due to changes in the environment, possible evidence of climate change, progressives have adapted their plumage and habitat to merge with ordinary people. So effective is this adaptive camouflage that today, as with the bearded tit, we have to rely on their calls in order to spot them. Below we have a few of the calls they use to recognise each other.

Flock of Progressives

Flock of Progressives

Is this tea Fairtrade?

The BBC is getting more right wing every day.

We rented this lovely little gite in Languedoc.

Homophobe!

Could you wait while I charge my car?

How can a Christian possibly vote Conservative?

It was all about oil.

Communism is a wonderful theory; it’s just never been practiced properly.

99%

Margaret Thatcher!

Global warming deniers should be ashamed, that is if they had any morals at all.

We had a Ministry of War then a Ministry of Defence, what we really need is a Ministry of Peace.

We didn’t send Tristram and Philippa to some socially divisive boarding school, we got them into Brompton Oratory instead.

Conservatives are naturally racists.

People only oppose Obama because he’s black.

Margaret Thatcher!

I’m not religious but if I were I would probably be a Buddhist.

I got a 2:2 in media and gender studies.

Nick Clegg is a true leader.

I got this jacket in a charity shop.

The EU has preserved peace in Europe since WWII.

I have issues.

That’s discrimination.

George Monbiot is so insightful.

The vegetarian options on this menu are very limited.

I’m focussing on urban poverty at the moment.

Racist!

We need to work out what it was we did that makes the terrorists hate us so much.

I read everything Noam Chomsky writes.

I blame the right wing press.

Meditation has opened my mind to realities you couldn’t even perceive.

Is this vegan?

I don’t believe in labels.

Islamophobe!

I don’t watch television.

Do you know anyone who votes Conservative?

You’re for traditional marriage? You’re a homophobe.

Margaret Thatcher!

Of course I drive a car, but I wouldn’t have to if we had proper public transport.

If we just talked to the terrorists they wouldn’t hate us so much.

I’m a progressive because I’m open minded.

I hate UKIP.

Jesus was all about social justice.

Don’t push your values or morals on me.

You want to enforce immigration laws? You’re a racist.

Margaret Thatcher was Hitler with a handbag.

If you do come across a progressive please take care. Do not disturb their habitat or they may take flight in a flurry of noise and random, sometimes violent, action. If this does happen don’t be frightened, they are harmless unless we take them seriously.

GOOD INTENTIONS

Last week archbishop now Cardinal Nichols, closely followed by 27 Anglian bishops, intervened in the debate over welfare reform. This was met with the usual boring cry of, ‘The church should stay out of politics,’ as though God’s sovereignty somehow ended at the doors of parliament.

why_cash_is_cool

What was more interesting were the predictable complaints from the political right that the church has gone left. What the latest intervention by the massed clerics is held to illustrate is the apparent tendency of church leaders to intervene on only one side of any economic debate and take a line which can be charitably described as soft left.

Are political and economic matters really either so clearly morally good or morally evil? Is there only one side a Christian can take?

Church leaders have few qualms about making sweeping pronouncements regarding economic matters.  A few years ago we had senior English churchmen sounding like spokesmen for Occupy Wall Street. Dr Rowan Williams, then archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that ‘unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders’. Williams added that Karl Marx had been right in his assessment of the nature of capitalism, ‘if about little else’. His counterpart in York, Dr John Sentamu, said the market took its rules of trade ‘from Alice in Wonderland’ and branded speculators who had short-sold shares ‘bank robbers and asset strippers’.

Seemingly incredibly sophisticated financial products most assuredly bring problems, they also enable reasonably efficient flows of capital, from those who have surplus funds to those who require funds, e.g. for investment in a new or growing business. They may be more complicated but they operate on the same principle as the TV programme Dragon’s Den. The outcomes from such transactions are more than ‘profit for traders’, and bring real and tangible benefits to a significant number of people, including those who gain employment in such businesses.

The recent failings of the global financial system, and they are many, do not demonstrate that the system itself is a fantasy from down the rabbit hole. It is this same system which enabled a sustained global economic expansion throughout the 1990s and into the first years of the 21st century. We did not hear church leaders then lamenting that that expansion was built on sand.

One common justification for this soft left stance is that the Bible is clearly on the side of the poor and the New Testament in particular is proto-socialist if not communist. Blithely ignoring its historical context Acts 2:42f is regularly trotted out with a quasi-fundamentalist flourish as an illustration of the church at least starting out as a communistic community sharing everything. Church leaders are said to be merely enunciating a biblical vision of economic and political reality.

As usual there is another approach to the question. Our church leaders are not sitting up conducting their evening devotions over Marx’s Capital. There are two underlying reasons why church leaders consistently hold to a redistributive economic stance – compassion and ignorance.

Clergy are profoundly influenced by the fact that they spend a great deal of their lives thinking about or in close proximity to the sheer wretchedness of poverty. Clergy, even those in leading positions, tend to have far greater personal contact with poverty than politicians. When confronted by real poverty the compassionate response, the Christian response, is to give immediate help. Thus we have church food banks, urban aid programmes and help given on an individual scale, sometimes sacrificially.

The problem arises when this laudable compassion is combined with economic ignorance. The cry of compassion against poverty can be simplistically converted into a cry of rage against wealth.

There are Christians working as professional economists, such as members of the Association of Christian Economists, who approach economics from a distinctively Christian perspective. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions most clergy are woefully ignorant of the most basic economic principles.

Our seminaries offer and our denominations require courses in all manner of useful or useless ‘outside’ disciplines; sociology, psychology, gender studies even anthropology. How many denominations require Economics 101? The result is that when even intelligent church leaders make economic statements they are not made on economic grounds but on the basis of familiarity.

Church economics operate on the redistributive principle, money is gathered in and then shared out. At its simplest the plate is passed around on a Sunday and on Monday the bills are paid. If there is not enough money to pay the bills and do the work of the church the minister stands up and puts another layer of guilt on the congregation.  Clergy have a static approach to money as though it were a pie that has to be distributed, if someone is to get a larger portion someone else has to get a smaller portion.

However, outside the Occupy movement, Greens, Lib Dems, SWP and other fringe groups, the real world operates on the production principle. The amelioration of poverty requires the creation of wealth. If money is to be redistributed to those in need first of all value has to be created. We cannot help the poor by taking in each other’s washing. Unlike the clergy the entrepreneur talks of making money not collecting it.

The French Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson pointed out the inadequacy of good intentions, ‘Our first rule of action (is) that piety is never a substitute for technique; for technique is that without which the most fervent piety is powerless to make use of nature for God’s sake.’

Our clergy make pronouncements on economics with the best of intentions, and we all know what is paved with good intentions.

WHY ISRAEL?

There is no lack of vile regimes which subjugate their own citizens and spread terror abroad. This is especially true of the Middle East where there appears to be little to choose between hereditary dictatorships, military juntas and Islamo-Fascist theocracies. Democracy is a fragile flower in even the best of Arab countries.

A report issued by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) this week criticized the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas for assaults on human rights and freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The report lists cases of torture and mistreatment in PA and Hamas prisons. ICHR pointed particularly to an increase in the number of torture cases in prisons belonging to the PA’s much-feared Preventive Security Service in the West Bank.

It appears that during January alone ICHR received 56 complaints about torture and mistreatment in Palestinian prisons: 36 in the Gaza Strip and 19 in the West Bank. In addition, they received innumerable complaints about arbitrary and unlawful arrests of Palestinians by the PA and Hamas.

Palestinian Police Deal with Peacfull Protestors In Ramallah

Palestinian Police Deal with Peacefull Protestors In Ramallah

The PA police force have a rather direct way with demonstrators. On January 12, 2014, PA policemen used force to break up a protest by Palestinian youths north of Ramallah. Between 60-70 protesters, the report states, were wounded in the head and legs after policemen attacked them with clubs and stun grenades. According to the report on January 28, 2014, PA policemen used live ammunition to disperse stone-throwers in the centre of Ramallah.

You must remember watching the TV news reports about this and reading about it in the newspapers. Perhaps if you missed these you picked it up on the BBC Radio 4 documentary about conditions in Gaza and the West Bank. No?

Don’t beat yourself up. There was no media coverage of the report, just as there is little media coverage of corruption in the Palestine Authority. An EU report found that financial corruption in the PA led to the ‘loss’ of aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the period 2008 to 2012 amounting to around €2 billion.

Yet we all know, because we are constantly told so, that the bad boy in the Middle East and the cause of all the suffering of the Palestinian people is Israel.

Why in a world replete with corrupt and violent regimes should our progressive elites demonise the one regime in the Middle East which actually dares to be democratic? Arab citizens of Israel enjoy more human and political rights than Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East. They serve in the Knesset, in the Judiciary, in the Foreign Service, in higher education, and in business. They are free to criticize Israel and to support its enemies. Israeli universities are hot beds of anti-Israel rhetoric, advocacy and even teaching.

Moreover, anyone—Jew, Muslim or Christian—dissatisfied with Israeli actions can express that dissatisfaction in the courts, and in the media, both at home and abroad. This freedom does not exist in any Arab country, nor in many non-Arab countries.

Yet it is Israel alone which is being threatened with boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. Israel and the plight of the Palestinians have become the progressive cause de jour.

There are many reasons held in varying degrees, none having much to do with the facts. There is the herd mentality. Our fiercely individualistic progressives have evolved into what Harold Rosenburg termed a ‘herd of independent minds’.

Long before Rosenburg, Thomas Huxley (Darwin’s Bulldog) wrestled with the inherent contradiction between  man’s ‘innate tendency to self-assertion … as the condition of victory in the struggle for existence and the obvious fact that in the struggle for survival loners are losers and individuals who banded together increased their chances of survival.’ Huxley came to the conclusion that the glue holding individuals together in a group is the collective shaming code.

The shared code binds members of the group as one.  They share disgust, anger, delight and shame of the same things. The unanimity of their visceral response provides a powerful sense of collective identity. They become the tribal ‘Us’, as opposed to those tribes who are not disgusted, angered or shamed as ‘We’ are. A group sharing a powerful visceral code inhibiting the natural tendency of the individual to self-assertion presents a united front against its enemies. To step outside that group is a betrayal of the group, more importantly it is a betrayal of one’s identity.

There are also the great many armchair warriors. Sitting in suburbia or a student union bar the armchair warrior can obtain the thrill of engagement merely by voicing support for the Palestinians. There need be no actual engagement but virtual participation brings with it a sense of taking part in the struggle. North Americans of supposedly Irish descent found the same in their support of Irish terrorism, a dollar in the collecting tin for the ‘bhoys’ and they were on the front line, never mind the innocent shoppers blown to bits by bombs.

Israel is far from perfect but when criticism is focussed on a state with strong democratic credentials, and that nation happens to be the state of the Jewish people, the suspicion of bigotry must be considered. Declarations that ‘I’m not anti-Semitic but ant-Zionist’, sound alarmingly like those statements beginning, ‘I’m not a racist, but …’

No Anti-Semitism Here, Move Along

No Anti-Semitism Here, Move Along

Dr Martin Luther King said: ‘Anti-Semitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently anti-Semitic, and ever will be so.’

Despite Dr king’s assertion it is possible to be anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, but it is increasingly difficult especially when the side you support has a view of the Jews which would get Hitler’s stamp of approval. Your position is seriously undermined when the people you support or work alongside are virulently anti-Semitic.

Cliff Hanley believes 9/11 is a Jewish conspiracy; Sammi Ibrahem supports the Holocaust and refers to the Nazis as “martyrs”; Ellie Merton reckons the Breivik massacre in Norway was ‘an Israeli Govt sponsored operation’; and Gill Kaffash believes the Holocaust is a lie. The common factor? They have all chaired or held other prominent positions in the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organisation which makes the barking mad BNP seem like a group of hand-wringing moderates.

There is also the anti-colonialist’s self-hatred. At the end of the day the problem with the Israeli’s is that they are just too like us.

RELENTLESS PRESSURE

So despite the fact that feedback to the public consultation was, as several MSPs admitted, ‘overwhelmingly negative’ the Scottish Parliament has enacted legislation permitting same sex marriage anyway.

just-married-jpg

The debate was notable for its attacks upon Christianity. Patrick Harvie (Green) suggesting that opposition to same sex marriage was necessarily homophobic. John Finnie (Independent) equated opposing same sex marriage to religious groups who throw goats off towers to their death. Mary Fee (Labour) asserted that the Bible should not be used to attack same-sex marriage because the ‘Bible also supports slavery’, and prohibits cutting hair.

So far so bad. But, as usual, there is worse to come. A number of amendments to the bill designed to protect churches and other religious institutions from potential legal action or discrimination were all rejected. Protection for charities and registrars was deliberately omitted. The legislation was deliberately enacted with a weak opt in provision for faith groups or individuals which opens the door for further gains by the homosexual lobby. Churches at present can still refuse such marriages but if they wish to in the future they can opt in and provide same sex marriage ceremonies.

We should take this in conjunction with the statement from the CofS spokesman. Alan Hamilton, Convener of the Church’s Legal Questions Committee: ‘The Church of Scotland holds to the mainstream Christian belief that marriage is properly between a man and a woman.

‘Although there are a range of views on this issue within the Church, this will remain our view unless changed by our General Assembly, the supreme decision-making body in the Church, which meets each year in May.’

Technically accurate but what it means is that the GA is wide open to the redefinition of marriage, and in the present climate how long will it be before the GA reverses its position? We have ministers who whole heartedly approve of same sex marriage and will themselves take the opportunity to enter such an arrangement. Can we realistically see the GA saying it disapproves of their action or considers such to be un-Christian?

Some day in the not too distant future a homosexual couple will approach a carefully selected Church of Scotland minister and ask for a church wedding. If the minister complies, as is entirely possible, they get their wedding and the church gets a problem. The church will have to decide what to do about the minister. If they don’t institute disciplinary proceedings the church de facto accepts same sex marriage. If they do discipline the dissenting minister he or she will inevitably become a martyr to the cause and focus of dissent within the denomination leading to the eventual acceptance of same sex marriage. If a civil case were to be brought against the church by the minister can we be sure that in the prevailing climate the church would win?

It does not take the gift of prophecy to predict this, merely reflection on recent events. Whenever the homosexual lobby have campaigned for a gain it has been with the assurance that this would be all they wanted. As soon as they get what they want they move on to the next gain. We can all remember declarations that all that was desired was civil partnerships and that there was no wish for marriage.

This will happen because the homosexual lobby is relentless. Their view of freedom is that they should be free to say and do what they like and we should be free to agree with them. Dissent from the prevailing homosexual orthodoxy is not a permitted option.

Homosexual orthodoxy already has such a grip that many Christians find themselves in extremely difficult positions. I recently had a letter from a young friend asking for advice. A gifted classical singer, choral director and composer he finds himself under pressure if he wishes to continue working in his chosen field. The same letter, however, could have come from a teacher, a medic, a registrar, a couple wishing to adopt, from any of us. With his permission I include part of his letter.

‘I experience and have experienced first hand a form of militant liberalism from within and without the church which I find, frankly, terrifying. Having been a Christian all my life, living out my Faith as best I can, I suddenly find myself labeled as an extremist, a fanatic, and considered a danger to society. This is not an exaggeration! When I was a scholar in a certain episcopal cathedral, some of the beliefs I held were regularly described as abhorrent (though I must confess I was not, at the time, brave enough to profess them openly).

‘I would value any advice on how a young Christian with some influence should respond to the environment in which I regularly work. I must confess, I find myself increasingly living in fear of being asked direct questions which, answered honestly, could lead to me being black-listed at best and hated a worst. I am most afraid of being read wrong. For example, I have many friends and colleagues who are gay. How could I expect them to understand that their life-style does not make me love them any less, and yet I cannot agree that homosexual relationships are acceptable. And then the other end of the spectrum: I believe that God has given me a calling for working with children and I spend great amounts of time and energy on that calling. As a young, single male, you can guess how many of my peers view that calling…

“Any words of wisdom / scripture references and/or advice would be most welcome.”

What advice or help would you offer to a young Christian friend?

CHRISTIANITY AND ?

For an invigorating comment on the Time for Reflection stushie we can recommend the latest post on the always worthwhile Wee Flea blog where David Robertson opens up the issue in a very clear manner. There is more underlying this than a disagreement about education.

There is much that is frightening about the alliance between the CofS Church & Society Council and the Humanist Society Scotland. The official line from a denomination in frantic damage limitation mode is that this is merely a change in terminology. This is much more than the change of phrase from Religious Observance to Time for Reflection. Although of significance we should not get hung up on the semantics of the issue, it is much more serious than that.

There are committed Christians who see their calling as teaching children of all backgrounds about the reality of Christ and who seek to do this in a way which neither compromises the Gospel or the personal faith or lack of it of the children or their families. Some of them see the ‘rebranding’ of RO as an opportunity to create genuinely thought provoking experiences for the pupils in an inclusive manner whilst still being faithful to Christ. Such teachers who seek to follow Jesus in what is sometimes a hostile environment deserve our admiration and prayers.

Whether religious education in Scottish schools is termed Religious Observance, as required at present, or Time for Reflection, as proposed by the Humanist Society Scotland and the Church of Scotland, it is the content of the education which is important.

Surprisingly the Council has made common cause with the Humanist Society Scotland in their approach to religious education. As one office bearer in HSS remarked he could see where it was of advantage to his organisation but just couldn’t see what the CofS got out of it. A tiny organisation of less than 7,000 members who wish to see the end of direct Christian influence in Scottish education has in effect co-opted Scotland’s largest church.

As one secular organisation in Scotland has said, “We welcome the suggested removal of religious components from Religious Observance / Time for Reflection, a positive step for those who do not share the Christian faith …when you bring Jesus into it, it becomes offensive to people with no beliefs, and blasphemous to some with beliefs”. The secularists at least are clear about their beliefs and purposes.

There is an unequal struggle taking place in Scotland for the soul of the Church.

There are those who wish, in line with the historic creeds of the Church, to retain the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ, the incarnate God who rose from the dead, as the only Saviour. They see the good life as being one based on Scriptural principles.

There are also those who have a totally different conception of what constitutes Christianity. They see Christianity as being at its core an open minded mystical religiosity, welcoming spiritual insights from any tradition without the trammels of biblical exclusivity. They place an emphasis on right living whatever the source of inspiration.

One group sees life as being built upon what they see as proper belief. The other group sees belief as emanating from what they see as a proper life.

In early 20th century USA during the struggle for the Presbyterian Church in the USA J Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism. In this book, which cannot be recommended too strongly, Machen makes the point that two completely different views of God were contesting for the structures and very life of his denomination. Although many evangelicals seem unaware of it we are seeing the same struggle being replayed in early 21st century Scotland.

The real questions with regard to the Time for Reflection issue is which faith is going to be presented to the children of Scotland as Christianity, and which faith is going to be the faith of the Church of Scotland.

The CofS/HSS alliance has proposed that all external visitors must ‘agree’ with the equality and diversity agenda as approved by the HSS. This means that visiting chaplains who did not sign up to progressive orthodoxy, even if they never mentioned a red button issue like homosexual marriage, or never made their views known publicly, could be excluded from schools for the very fact of holding such views, thinking such thoughts. That until very recently such views were held by every Christian, and are still held by many, is immaterial.

The new tolerance is already very effective in silencing contrary views. The Scottish Secondary Teacher’s Association, the nation’s only specialist union for secondary teachers has already informed members that within school they must not voice opposition to homosexual marriage either to pupils or even to other staff. Any teacher who does so would be open to discipline by the local authority and if so the union will refuse to defend them or provide legal support.

Are we naïve enough to believe that it could never reach the stage where teachers who express a biblical view of marriage outside the school and in another context would be disciplined?

When it comes to the church we have already had a case of a CofS minister being removed from a school chaplaincy because of his traditional Christian beliefs. Early in January Donald MacInnes, minister of Gairbraid in Glasgow and chaplain of Glasgow Gaelic School was removed from his position at the school after a posting on Facebook in which he said he was opposed to legislation regarding same sex marriage. At the time a Kirk spokesman said he was sorry that Mr MacInnes was no longer the school’s chaplain, but also reiterated the Church of Scotland’s view that homophobia was “sinful.”

That a trade union will refuse to support a member who takes a contrary social/political position to the union is perhaps understandable. That a Church refuses to support and even smears as homophobic a minister who upholds a biblical position is incomprehensible.

In the meantime the denomination weakens. The Presbytery of Lanark has just lost its strongest congregation. Ian Watson and the bulk of committed members of his congregation of Kirkmuirhill have left the denomination. This comes with a disclaimer, Ian is a friend of mine. More than that he is one of those whom I would count it a particular blessing to have as my minister. I also know his congregation in South Lanarkshire and have spoken there when taking Grain on the road. They proved to be a welcoming group of committed Christians seeking God’s way in their lives.

They didn’t leave as The Scotsman paper suggests because of the Time for Reflection issue. It goes much deeper than that, they just saw no future in struggling for the Scriptural faith in a denomination in which they felt their beliefs being marginalised. How long will evangelicals in the CofS allow this to continue?